When Senior People Apply for Junior-level Jobs

Though the employment index climbed to its highest level in two years (and that’s good news), from a  job-search perspective, it’s still a jungle out there.  Not only are companies still reluctant to resume hiring to any meaningful degree, overqualified candidates continue to compete with recent grads for jobs in the 0 – 5 year range.  How do you handle an interview when you suspect the competition has you beat by ten years?

Focus on the common reasons why employers are afraid to hire overqualified talent.

Recruiters are still leery of overqualified talent, however they define “overqualified,” for any number of reasons.  And though I do believe hiring seasoned pros can be a great strategy (value = benefit÷cost), you don’t want to blurt that out when you’re interviewing for a junior-level job.  So are some reasons why employers might be afraid of over-hiring for a junior role:

  1. The experienced employee will leave when they find something more in-line with their expected responsibilities, compensation, or career goals.
  2. Left unchallenged by entry-level work, the experienced employee will huff and puff his way through the day, never fully engaging with the team and shunning his much younger and inexperienced peers.
  3. Instead of seeing a more experienced coworker as an asset and mentor, the younger employees of the group will feel awkward and team dynamics will change/suffer.
  4. Hiring managers don’t want to manage people who have more experience than they do.

Turning the tables, it’s important for recent grads to highlight how none of these concerns apply to them.  For example:

  1. Highlight excitement for the company as a whole, not just the current role.  Point out that you’re excited to build a career with the company that you hope lasts beyond this one position.  “Lots of candidates are looking for anything that will pay the bills, even if it’s a step down from a previous position.  I’m excited about this position because it’s a perfect fit for me, and I’ll be able to grow with the company for years to come.”
  2. “I have so much to learn and a lot of energy to give.  I’m anxious to build new skills here and make you glad you hired me.”  One thing every employer looks for is motivation, and it’s easy for recent grads to demonstrate.
  3. “I can’t wait to join the team–it sounds like they’re a group of highly motivated new professionals like me.  I’m sure I’ll fit right in, and soon we’ll be working together like a well-oiled machine.”  Okay, that’s spreading it on a little thick.  But demonstrating that you fit with the current group is one of the best interview tips I’ve ever given.  The person sitting across the table will try to imagine you sitting with the current team.  If you help them make a positive association, you’ll probably get the job.  I always ask myself “Can I see this person working for me?  Do they fit with the other successful people I’ve hired?”  If the answer is Yes, I make an offer.
  4. Express that you’re excited to learn and grow.  I’ve said this a few times, but it’s so important.  Employers love to see energy, hunger, and curiosity coupled with the knowledge that there’s still a lot left to learn.  In fact, I often say that the more I learn, the more I realize I have to discover.  At this point in my career, I have a longer list of things I want to master than I did at age 23.

Most hires are to candidates who will grow into the position in about a year, and then grow out of it in another year.  Or so.  The best candidates (for junior level roles, remember) have ideal raw ingredients.  And at this level, it’s things like energy, drive, passion, brains and guts.  Not specific experience.  Keep the interview focused on these traits, and you’ll do well against over-qualified competition.


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